(Vanessa Thorpe’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/12; via Pam Green.)

Since Shakespeare’s “Scottish play” was first performed in 1611, Macbeth and his calculating wife have formed a template for fiction’s most politically ambitious couples, right down to Frank Underwood and his first lady, Claire, in the hit US TV version of the book House of Cards.

The driven woman who pushes her husband by appealing to his worst nature remains a potent stereotype, but new academic research suggests that Shakespeare actually borrowed the idea from a popular version of Roman history rather than setting up the compelling dynamic himself.

After translating original texts not usually associated with the bard’s great tragedy, Dr John-Mark Philo argues there is not much Scottish about the most famous Scottish story in the world. The lecturer at East Anglia University has discovered close similarities between a study of the two steely Roman queens – Tanaquil, who put two kings on the Roman throne, and Tullia, who brought a tyrant to power. According to Philo, Shakespeare came across these women in a forgotten work by the English writer William Painter, who was widely read in Tudor court circles.


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